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Art Collectors: The Next Generation

Collecting art may have traditionally been a hobby for older, upper-class buyers, but online markets have now made the art-buying process much more accessible. The global art market is seeing a swift recovery after lows in 2020, and younger buyers are making up a larger part of the market than ever before.

Photo by Antenna

The beginning of 2020 was a turbulent year for the art market, but even a pandemic couldn’t dissuade art lovers from pursuing their passion. According to Art Basel’s report ‘The Art Market 2021’, a majority of the art collectors surveyed felt the COVID-19 pandemic had increased their interest in collecting. Art provides solace, and it’s no wonder that buyers sought to expand their collections during a difficult and emotional year.

Amoako Boafo, ‘The Lemon Bathing Suit’, 2019, oil on canvas, 205.7 x 193 cm. Image © Philips

With many in-person events cancelled, such as art fairs and gallery openings, online sales became the most convenient way for art collectors world-wide to get their fix. Even though overall art sales decreased last year, online sales of art and antiques reached a record high of $12.4 billion (£8.92 billion), doubling in value from 2019. Data from Barnebys reflected this increased interest in browsing from home with a 12% increase in clicks from 2019 to 2020.

Individuals buying art online are likely to be relatively new to collecting, with over half of online buyers collecting for fewer than ten years, and 18% collecting two years or less. This is partially because online buyers are also likely to be young – nearly a third of online collectors are under 35. Young collectors are a key demographic for auction houses and galleries to attract, as it means vendors can form a meaningful, life-long relationship. One of the best ways to reach these younger buyers is through the internet, underscoring the importance of dealers maintaining a strong online presence.

René Magritte, ‘A la rencontre du plaisir’, 1962, oil on canvas, 46 x 55 cm. Image © Christie’s

When it comes down to it, being drawn to a specific artwork is entirely personal. There are many reasons why someone may choose to buy a piece, but the overwhelming majority of collectors, regardless of age or gender, say that aesthetics is their main motivation. Millennial and Gen-Z men are the most likely to collect art for investment, but even investment-minded buyers usually cite aesthetics as the top reason for buying a certain work.

Affordability is another popular consideration, but less so for high net worth individuals and older generations with more disposable income. Mid-price items are the fastest-growing sector at auction, and the average price of a piece of fine art sold at auction in 2020 was a modest $35,698 (£25,883) according to ArtNet’s Spring 2021 ‘Intelligence Report’.

Interestingly, Gen-Z buyers (people born between 1997 and 2012) are more likely to buy art to support an artist or artist friend than other generational groups. This is consistent with findings that Gen-Zers are more interested in how things relate to themselves or their own identity rather than status or mass appeal. Besides aesthetics, this group also puts more weight on the artist’s background when choosing a piece, looking at the story of the artist as a whole rather than a single artwork in isolation.

Artemisia Gentileschi and associate, ‘The Triumph of Galatea’, oil on canvas, 196.85 x 254.5 cm. Image © Christie’s

High net worth millennials are the fastest-growing group of collectors, according to the 2020 edition of ‘The Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report’. Millennials as a whole also buy more art and spend more on it than any other age demographic, with a median spend of $228,000 (£164,640) in 2020, which more than doubled what baby boomers spent.

The majority of collectors plan on buying more works in the coming year, according to ‘The Art Basel Art Report 2021’. Even with more in-person art events scheduled, sellers must have a strong online presence with accessible websites to reach the majority of buyers, particularly younger collectors.

Yayoi Kusama, ‘Water Lily’, 1988, acrylic on canvas, 45.5 x 53 cm. Image © Sotheby’s

Compared to older collectors, younger buyers are significantly more likely to have an organised, strategic plan for buying works. They are also optimistic. Looking to the coming decade, young and wealthy collectors are particularly confident about the state of the global art market. From investment-minded millennials to socially conscious Gen-Z buyers, these new connoisseurs are the future of collecting; comfortable with purchasing and viewing online, they have the whole art world at their fingertips.


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